Short-term rentals in Covington: ‘A sledgehammer when a scalpel is more appropriate’

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The City of Covington held a public hearing on short-term rentals Thursday night, where members of the public came out to speak on the recently published draft of the new regulatory ordinance.

This was the second public hearing related to short term rentals; the first took place in April. Although it was not as well attended as the first public hearing, members from all sides of the issue spoke to the commission.

“We think the ordinance clarifies our expectations of operators [of short term rentals],” said Mayor Joe Meyer at the beginning of the meeting.

Meyer gave a brief overview of the draft ordinance before members of the public were allowed to speak.

A short-term rental is a piece of privately owned property rented out to tenants for short stays. They’re often called Airbnbs, after the web service where landlords can advertise their properties, although there are now multiple websites for booking such rentals.

The city published the draft of the new ordinance, and a list of frequently asked questions in a press release earlier this month. The city wrote the draft ordinance following a period of public input, which included comments at city commission meetings and written feedback submitted by residents in addition to April’s hearing.

“We know these changes are not going to satisfy everybody completely but we’ve worked hard to find a balance between competing interests,” said Brandon Holmes, Covington’s director of neighborhood services, in the June press release.

Covington began regulating short-term rentals in 2021 when city staff noticed their increased popularity, especially in neighborhoods closer to the riverfront. Visitors often come to Covington to use it as a cheap place to stay for big events across the river in Cincinnati, like football games and conventions.

The city commission instituted a moratorium on licenses for short-term rentals in December and increased penalties for unregulated properties in March. These moves frustrated many local investors and property owners, who felt the new regulations unduly stifled their business interests.

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Covington isn’t alone in considering the issue; several other cities in the region have deployed varying degrees of regulation on short-term rentals. Although short-term rentals can be an economic boon for property owners and even municipalities, there are questions about how they affect city zoning practices, housing cost and access, and neighborhood safety.

The draft ordinance proposed the following changes to the city’s regulation of short-term rentals (list is not exhaustive):

  • Each rental unit must have its own corresponding rental license.
  • The number of non-host occupied units–units where the property owner doesn’t live on-site–in Covington would be capped at 150. There would be no cap on host-occupied units.
  • Historic neighborhoods would have caps on the number of non-host occupied short-term rental properties.
  • No person, business or organization may have more than four short-term rental licenses.
  • Short-term rental licenses would be non-transferable and renewable every year from the date they’re issued.
  • The licensing application fees would increase from $30 to $500 per unit for license applications received after Nov. 1. Applications received before Nov. 1 would be charged the original $30 fee. Annual renewal fees would be $250.
  • Established license holders would be grandfathered into the new regulations and would be eligible for renewals.
  • Anyone who applied for a license but didn’t obtain it due to the moratorium would have to reapply.
  • No structure could have more than two short-term rental licenses.
  • Special events, such as weddings and banquets, would not be permitted at short-term rental properties.
  • Enforcement of short-term rental regulations would fall the city’s code enforcement board, which would use a three-strike rule when enforcing violations.
  • A rental license appeals board would be established to hear appeals related to short-term licenses and code violations.
  • Each property would have to have a dedicated local agent, who could quickly respond to any issues that arise during a renter’s stay.
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Meyer also informed the audience that once the city had decided on an ordinance for regulating the rentals, they would need to revise the city’s zoning plan to determine where short term rentals could and could not operate in the future.

Meyer said that these zoning regulations would remove the need for an owner to get a conditional zoning permit from the state, which would “eventually reduce your [property owners’] cost,” as it would eliminate the current $600 permit application fee.

Chris Whitmer was the first member of the public to speak.

“I’ve spent a lot of money supporting local businesses here to get my operation going,” Whitmer said. “And I have not been able to do that as of now.”

Christ Witmer at the public hearing on June 15. Photo by Nathan Granger | LINK nky

Whitmer said he had bought a property last year and put about $100,000 into bringing it up to par before the moratorium took effect.

Whitmer was critical of the draft ordinance, saying the new process seemed onerous. He also questioned whether the one block limit on properties made sense, given that blocks often vary in length. He also said that caps on the number of properties in historic districts ought to be eliminated.

“Free enterprise built this country,” Whitmer concluded, “and I think we should allow it to continue.”

Dan Harrelbrink at the public hearing on June 15. Photo by Nathan Granger | LINK nky

The next speaker, Dan Harrelbrink, also a property owner, agreed with Whitmer’s position on free enterprise but took it further, arguing that there should be no ordinance.

“I’m not in favor of any ordinances,” Harrelbrink said. “I haven’t seen yet any sort of evidence, besides anecdotal evidence, as far as why there needs to be any ordinances.”

He did say that he was open to changing his mind.

John Flesch, who spoke later in the meeting and who shared many of Whitmer and Harrelbrink’s concerns, said the ordinance “uses a sledgehammer when a scalpel is more appropriate.”

Not everyone took issue with the draft ordinance.

Gary Pranger, who indicated that he was not a short-term rental operator but said that his family had been living in Covington since the nineteenth century, liked the ordinance and believed that stricter regulations were necessary.

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Gary Pranger at the public hearing on June 15. Photo by Nathan Granger | LINK nky

“A person’s living space and neighborhood should not be compromised to feed profit to a commercial entity,” Pranger said.

Pranger said he was less worried about individual rental owners and more worried about hedge funds and other corporate investors buying up large amounts of property to the detriment of local residents.

“It is imperative for governing bodies to keep things under control,” Pranger said. “Whatever steps are taken, the goal should be to encourage families and individuals to have a place of their own–that they own–in which to live.”

Finally, Chachi Echeriel, a property owner who had spoken at the last hearing, was there again Thursday evening.

“I’d like to thank you guys for stopping the bleed,” said Echeriel, who runs a short-term rental business.

Chachi Echeriel at the public hearing on June 15. Photo by Nathan Granger | LINK nky

He then went on to say of the moratorium, “I’m sure it’s bankrupt people.”

Echeriel talked about the stresses that losing one’s livelihood could have.

“We got really lucky not to be hit by this because we just got longer term people, but it could have been the opposite,” he said. “It could have been our whole income, and I know for other people… it was their whole income.”

The City Commission hopes to have a final version of the ordinance ready by the end of the month, at which point it will go before the commission for two readings and a vote.

Meyer said that after the ordinance was passed, making the necessary zoning changes would likely take several months.

He added that an updated license application should be available by next week. Applications will be considered in the order they’re filled.

If you would like to comment on the ordinance, fill out the city’s electronic contact form.

City commissioners and property owners talking after the hearing on June 15. Photo by Nathan Granger | LINK nky

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